tv Classical Music Politics in 20th Century America CSPAN December 24, 2020 4:35pm-6:01pm EST
retired from the foreign service? >> yes. it was a great adventure. it was a lot of fun. i met a lot of people along the way. and it was gratifying for me to be able to tell this story, because as i said, so many people had never heard about this. >> the book is titled "after ike: on the trail of the century old journey that changed america." michael owen, our guest here in our studios, thank you very much for joining us on c-span3's american history tv. >> thank you. my pleasure. you're watching american history tv. all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. >> author and former classical musician jonathan rosenberg talks about his new book "dangerous melodies: classical music in america from the great war through the cold war." it explores the intersection of politics and music in the first half of the 20th century. mr. rosenberg describes how
music could serve as a tool of both outreach and xenophobia, depending on the political climate of the era. >> good afternoon. hello, everyone. i'm amanda and on behalf of smithsonian associates it's my pleasure to welcome you here for classical music and foreign relations, a complicated duet. thank you to our members. it's your support that keeps us going all year round. we're going deep into december before the holidays so it's a pleasure to have you. if you're not a member, if you're yucurious about our membership levels, talk to me or any of our volunteers just outside the doors. you can pick up a copy of the magazine if you don't have one already and find us online at smithsonianassociates.org. just as a quick reminder, please take a moment to silence any mobile devices or your cell phones, whatever you have with you. always good to double, triple check.
especially because we have cspan in the house tonight so your ring tone will be saved in perpetuity. thank you. just an additional note. our exits, generally, we have one in the back and one to your right. today, please just use the right side door. we have a lot going on in the ripley center today and that back door is blocked. so, please, for your safety and others, use this door to your right as you exit. i think that's all the announcements i have for you. and yes, again, thank you to cspan for being here today. so, finally, let me tell you about our guest today. jonathan rosenberg. jonathan rosenberg teaches 20th century u.s. history at hunter college and the graduate center of the city university of new york. his research focuses on the history of the united states in a global context. before receiving his ph.d. in history from harvard, rosenberg, a graduate of juilliard, worked as a classical musician. he is also the author of "dangerous minds: classical
music in america from the great war to the cold war" and it's available for sale and signing at the conclusion of the program. so, please, without further ado, join me in welcoming jonathan rosenberg. thank you. >> thanks. all right. okay. is my microphone on? i think it is. very good. well, thank you all for coming out this afternoon. it's a pleasure to see you here. it's nice to be here in washington. and it's heartening to see that there's a group of people who are interested in classical music and want to hear someone discuss a book on the subject. i'd like to begin by asking you to ponder a couple of questions. does art matter? what about artists?
as we reflect upon american society today, it can seem that art and the artist have very little impact on our lives. but i'd like to tell you about a time, and it wasn't all that long ago, when art and artists were extraordinarily important. i'm thinking specifically about classical music in the united states. i'd like to take you back to the streets of new york city in the spring of 1958, may of that year. 100,000 new yorkers turned up to watch a ticker tape parade honoring the pianist van clyburn. he had recently won the tchaikovsky competition that was held in moscow. cheers cascaded down on him. america's newest celebrity was sitting in the backseat of an open car waving to people, blowing kisses to the crowd. women were reaching out to try to touch him. in moscow, a few weeks earlier,
premier nikita was an enthusiastic participant in this emerging clyburn affair. millions of americans read about the way he playfully chatted with the young pianist. they developed a sort of nice, amiable relationship. the russian leader even famously gave clyburn a bear hug. when the pianist got back to the united states, clyburn mania swept the country. he was invited to the white house to meet with dwight eisenhower. now, it must be said, dwight eisenhower had no interest in classical music. when his press secretary was asked whether clyburn would play during the visit, he said, i don't think so. and he didn't. people read breathless accounts of clyburn's every move in newspapers and magazines. there were proportraits, opinio pieces, discussions of his baptist roots. there were articles on whether his victory in moscow would
somehow transform the u.s.-soviet relationship. can one imagine such a thing today? with the overseas accomplishments of a classical musician capture the attention of america's political leaders? or the country's newspapers and magazines? would we have a ticker tape parade that would attract a hundred thousand delirious fans, held for an artist with a gift for playing chtchaikovsky? i think we know the answer to that is no. but in an earlier time, a pianist's triumph could mesmerize the american people. few would question the notion that classical music has little relevance in contemporary america. its connection to the larger culture is tenuous at best. leading magazines offer very little coverage of the goings on in the world of classical music. newspapers supply little more than short reviews of concerts and recitals. for nearly all americans, the classical music landscape in the
united states is alien terrain. perhaps this group is an exception to that. but this wasn't always so. and dangerous melodies tells the story of an image when classical music occupied a prominent place, not only in the nation's cultural life but in its political life as well. and to tell that story, i explore the connection between the world of classical music in the united states and some of the crucial international developments of the 20th century. and over many decades, i argue in the book, classical music achieved a degree of significance that the music had never known before and which it surely lacks today. but of course the question is, why did classical music once command such attention? from world war i through the cold war, the classical music music community in the united states became entangled in international affairs. it was bound up in the two world wars that the united states
fought against germany with the soviet union, an important ally in world war ii. it was entwined in the emergence of italian and german fascism between the wars, and it was caught up in america's struggle with the soviet union after 1945. the long, seemingly unending cold war. and these three countries, germany, italy, and the soviet union, were wellsprings of rich musical traditions and the birthplaces of distinguished musical figures, and americans had long admired both those traditions and the musicians who embodied them. it was difficult, therefore, for people in the united states to separate america's relations with germany, italy, and the soviet union, from the music and musicians of those three lands. as a result, the classical music community in the united states was drawn into the swirl of international politics. and the intersection between the
music community and unfolding overseas events supplied classical music with a degree of political significance that i think is now difficult to comprehend. "dangerous melodies" is filled with stories about instrumentalists, singers, conductors and composers, along with the tales of the work of important musical institutions in the united states, symphony orchestras and opera companies. and importantly, it also looks at how listeners understood and responded to classical music. and a key point in the book is that over many decades, americans imbued the music with political and ideological meaning. the world of classical music helped americans grapple with critical questions in the life of the country. it helped them decide what was worth fighting for and why. it helped illuminate the meaning
of democracy, freedom, and patriotism. it supplied insight into the nature of tyranny and oppression, and classical music and the work of classical musicians helped americans reflect upon the country's purpose in what was a dangerous century. what role would the united states play in the world? now, according to one musicologist, music is not just something, quote, nice to listen to. instead, he writes, it is what we make it and what we make of it. people think through music, he writes, and they use it to decide who they are. and i would suggest to you that for many decades, the american people did a great deal of thinking through music and their reflections on classical music and on the work of musicians and performing institutions allowed them to achieve a deeper understanding of america's place in the world.
now, as i conducted research for this book, i came across some striking things that i didn't expect to find. that is almost inevitable when you're doing research on a book. but i really was struck by a couple of things that were, as i say, utterly unexpected. the first concerns an enduring debate on the relationship between art and politics in the united states. it was a bitter debate, and it pitted those who viewed classical music in highly nationalistic terms against those possessing a more idealistic perspective. i call them the musical nationalists and the musical universalists. the musical nationalists saw the world as a perilous place. they were convinced that the act of listening to pieces by certain composers or attending performances by particular singers, instrumentalists, or conductors could somehow contaminate the country. or even perhaps endanger the american people.
at those moments, when the country felt particularly vulnerable, the musical nationalists favored banning the music of certain composers or preventing certain artists from performing in the nation's concert halls and opera houses. unlike the musical nationalists, the universalists were convinced that art transcended politics and national rivalries. they believed music could act as a unifier, a force for uplift, perhaps even a catalyst for global cooperation. the musical universalists, not surprisingly, saw classical music as a universal language, which could speak to all of humanity's hopes and dreams. now, for many years, the debate between the musical nationalists and the musical universalists roiled in newspapers, magazines, and competing public pronouncements. and the passion that characterized this public
wrangling heightened classical music's political significance across the country. a couple of other things i didn't expect to find as i researched "dangerous melodies," after all, it's a book about the history of classical music. what i, in a sense, uncovered, were two vital aspects of 20th century u.s. history. the country's growing activism around the world and its increasing anxiety over anti-democratic regimes. consequently, "dangerous melodies" is not just a history of classical music in the united states. it also reveals how the united states became more assertive in world politics in the 20th century. and how the american people experienced a growing sense of distress over the threat posed by anti-democratic rulers. kaiser wilhelm, mussolini, hitler, stalin and his soviet
successors. i'd like now to turn to sort of the meat of the book and look at a couple of important episodes in this history that i have written. i'd like to begin by turning to the first world war, which began in the summer of 1914. the u.s. entered the war in 1917. wars can do peculiar things to societies. world war i was no exception. it caused unsavory attitudes to bubble to the surface of american life. the german state and its people were portrayed in barbaric terms. german-americans and all things german ultimately would be scorned in this country. the german language was no longer taught in schools. german books were removed from library shelves. there were book burnings in america of german language books. more trivially, sauerkraut
became liberty cabbage, hamburgers, liberty steak, german measles, well, yes, liberty measles. but more seriously, germans were tarred and feathered. they were beaten. a drunken mob lynched a german laborer in a small town in illinois. german music and musicians did not escape the fury. the concert hall became a battleground. a battleground upon which ethnic animosity and patriotic aspirations would be contested. it's worth keeping in mind in this period late 19th and into the early 20th century the sort of culture of classical music in the united states was dramatic. rehearsals of u.s. orchestras in this period took place in germany. most conductors were german, a large number of musicians were
german. it got drawn into all of this anti-german sentiment in the country, music did. many believed that the american war effort could be fortified by dictating who could conduct, who could perform and what could be played. i'd like to turn to boston who was the home at that time to one of the finest symphony orchestras in the united states. and it still is. the boston music director at that time was a man german born, carl mook. and he was one of the most celebrated conductors. his problems began when it was alleged he refused to play the star-spangled banner at a concert in providence, rhode island. this was october 1917. now, the fact was that carl nook had not been informed of the request to play the piece that
evening. the orchestra did not have the music with them, they weren't prepared to play it, and it wasn't played. things quickly spiralled downward. the affair became a national phenomenon. it was widely covered in the press for a considerable amount of time. in philadelphia theodore roosevelt told a crowd any man who refuses to play the star-spangled banner in this time of national crisis should be forced to pack up and return to the country which he came from. in baltimore a boston symphony concert on the road doing a little tour, it was canceled when it was feared that a riot might erupt. there was no concert. a large rally was held anyway. it was led by a former politician there. cries of kill -- kill -- rang out at this rally. it was a vicious scene. i describe it in some detail in
the book. in new york he became the target of a toxic campaign to keep him off the stage. the effort failed. he performed a few concerts there. they were well reviewed. there were police officers stationed in the concert hall. his fate was hardly secure, though. back in boston on the night of march 25th, 1918 carl was arrested. he wasn't charged with any crime. he was hauled off to a local jail, and a few weeks later he'd be shipped off to a place called fort oglethorp in georgia which was a place that held german prisoners. not necessarily war prisoners. most of these people were germans who lived in the united states. the united states labeled carl a dangerous enemy alien and he would spend the rest of the war in this prison camp in georgia along with several thousand other german aliens, a number of whom were musicians.
the book has much more on the carl nook saga including his love affair with a young singer which became public knowledge after his arrest and further inflamed the situation. still more troubling the authorities accused carl nook of espionage. there were a number of allegations against him. he was said to have signaled german vessels at sea from a summer seaside cottage he had on the main coast. there's no credible evidence to support any of these allegations. carl was no spy. he was a faithless husband put he was not a spy. several months after the war he was released from prison and he was deported never to return to the united states. throughout the country german music and german musicians were the object of anti-german hatred. in new york city in the 1917, 1918 concert season no german
opera would be performed. you german sings were fired. the opera house had become an extension of the battlefield. a ban was also placed on orchestral pieces by living german composers. there were some who opposed this decision. they thought it was completely foolish. these were mainly the musical universalists. one publication said the notion of banning all the music by german composers was absurd. after all one critic said if he were to die tomorrow his music would suddenly become acceptable. how silly was that? the music of living german composers was a special target. wagner operas were also banned. in the city of pittsburgh all german music completely was proscribed. cincinnati had a very distinguished conductor who was an austrian.
he was arrested and imprisoned, sent to the same prison camp as carl muck. he committed no crime. it was vaguely reported he had some anti-american things at social gatherings. in chicago several german musicians in the orchestra were dismissed. again they were charged with no crimes. the chicago symphony had a very distinguished principal cellists. he was dismissed after accused of adding obscene lyrics to the star-spangled banner. he also failed to stand up during a performance and he was asked why and he said i couldn't stand and continue to play my cello. the end of the war in 1918 did not mean an end to anti-german hostility in the country. i'm not going to go into it in detail today but the book details this into considerable detail.
in the fall of 1919 one year after the war ended blood was shed and gunfire rang out on the east side of new york city when violent protests erupted over performances of german opera and operetta by a new opera company. that company was soon forbidden from offering new yorkers german opera. in effect there were riots on the street of new york over this. this was a year after the end of the war. gradually over time over the next few years german music would be heard again. germany had been tamed in the war and its music again soothed and inspired the american people. by the 1930s developments in germany again aroused concern. in 1936 the most famous conductor in the country arturo tuscunyny decided he was to step down from his post.
the big question was who was going to replace him, and the matter of replacing him became entangled very quickly in foreign affairs. the german conductor was atop the list of successors. they were arguably the two most distinguished conductors in the world. when the new york philharmonic announced he had agreed to succeed tuscanini it received feverish national press coverage. an artist who could be linked to the nazi regime was an unappealing presence to say the least. people were convinced that his actions starting when hitler came to power in 1933 made him an entirely unsavory figure.
he had remained in nazi germany to work under hitler. almost immediately new york philharmonic subscribers began canceling their subscriptions for the following year. a jewish business leader called it unthinkable to appoint an official of the nazi government to lead this august music organization. and the key question really became to what extent was he a supporter of and complicit in the policies of nazi germany. heartfelt letters appeared in local newspapers and actually in newspapers in other parts of the country as well. in "the new york times" a woman said and i'm quoting, as a member of the race of which they abuse i'm stunned that this sanctuary of music in america had been successfully invaded by the hordes of hitler. keep in mind this is 1936 so this is before the start of the second world war.
but not everyone agreed. there were those who argued, again here we have the musical universalists that he had acted honorably, he's not a member of the nazi party. there was some evidence that suggested his opposition to hitler. he refused at least for a time to dismiss jews from the philharmonic and it was said by some that music and politics should be kept apart. many, of course, rejected this notion out of hand. on jewish weekly the american hebrew called him the highest musical official of a government which had relegated musical art to the gutter. the rhetoric was quite intense back and forth. finally responding to the ferocious opposition that was boiling in new york fortvangler withdrew his acceptance. his cabler was both high-minded
and patronizing. quoting -- political controversies disagreeable to me are not politician but an exponent of german music which belongs to all humanity regardless of politics. by and large his decision not to come to the united states -- i certainly met with a national reaction and most publications were quite pleased he had decided not to come. "time" magazine trumpeted in a headline "nazi stays home." his fate had been sealed by the irate opposition among those who refused to support an artist, whose ties to a malevolent regime were questionable at best and possibly worse than that. i will in a few minutes come back to revisit the question when something happens after world war ii which resembles this set of developments in the 1930s.
but i'd like to say a few things now about the second world war. during world war ii americans witnessed a powerful illustration of music's capacity to fortify the war effort. as the performance of a russian composition became the most sensational classical music story of the war years. i'm speaking about the country's encounter with the 7th symphony. that happened in 1942 when it premiered in the united states. this makes clear how music and politics were intertwined. in june of that year 1942 nbc announced that the seventh symphony would receive its american premier in a july broadcast bedly tuscanini. the concert would be heard by millions of people across the country on nbc stations. it would be ultimately
broadcasted in short wave facilities around the world, adding weight to the event was the fact the symphony had been composed by an artist from the soviet union which was of course a crucial wartime ally. the piece mesh would the u.s. government's desire to fortify the bond between washington and moscow. the nbc press release captured the drama of the moment noting the piece had been composed while he was living under the flame and fire of the nazi attack on leningrad. nbc said the symphony was inspired by the soviet's repulsion of the nazi horrors at leningrad. on july 19th, 1942, the seventh received its u.s. premier. as i said, it was heard by
♪ >> thank you. my conducting skills are somewhat limited. as i said, this concert would be listened to by millions. and it was covered widely in the press. it was a sunday afternoon broadcast. and it was preceded by highly political remarks that contrasted german brutality with russian heroism and american generosity. listeners were told that the finale would, quote, hail the ultimate victory of light over darkness. of humanity over barbarrism. the cover of "time" magazine pictured a stern face in a wartime fire marshal's helmet staring into the distance with burned out buildings in the
background. this was a national event that as i said millions of people were aware of, millions of people in a sense participated in. and the 7th symphony remained in the news after the july 1942 premiere. why? because toward the end of the summer and on into the fall, leading orchestras around the country gave their own premieres. so it was performed in boston, in cleveland, chicago, washington, minneapolis and out in california. the piece became a nationwide phenomenon. thousands of people were listening to it in their local concert halls. the press was covering it. in cleveland, distinguished conductor said that the performance was not just one of the greatest musical events, but one of the greatest political events. the los angeles philharmonic
played the work in october. they gave two performances. first in their auditorium, the second for thousands of soldiers at a desert army base. actor edward g. robinson supplied the opening remarks. if i were teaching at my college, i would have to explain who he was. i think probably many of you will recall who he was. he supplied the opening remarks and he said the following -- listen, yous mugs. pipe down for the big doings. and it was how he was a hero and composed the piece and l.a. times declared that they were enthralled as the musical spirit of war came. even a year after, "newsweek" proclaimed that the whole world knew about him.
i think it's difficult to imagine today a piece of classical music taking on such political meaning. it's almost impossible to imagine that. in 1945 with the surrender of germany and japan, a new era marked by unprecedented challenges and energizing possibilities began to take shape. for the united states, this new age pointed to a fundamentally different orientation toward the world. many musicians in the u.s. embraced the idea that their art would be able to contribute to a more cooperative world. despite this, controversies erupted over musicians whose commitment to humane values was seen as dubious on account of their wartime activities. thus even after the nazi threat was gone, the prospect of certain artists coming to america to perform, particularly
those seen as supporting or sympathizing with hitler cast apal over the american music scene. given what naziism had perpetrated across europe, many believed that in dealing with those whose wartime behavior was suspect, there was simply no room for compromise. moreover, as america's distress over totalitarianism intensified with the fear of soviet communism, there was a tendency to equate stalin's rule with hitler. and americans were yet again forced to grapple with a crucial question. and reminiscent of the first world war. should artists who embraced anti-democratic ideas or who consorted with toxic regimes be banished? and this issue emerged with
great intensity in stormy post war debates that involved a number of people. i document this in the book and i'll talk about one person here today. he was the pianist and soprano and conductor. their ties to naziism and their plans to come to the united states to perform created a heated response among musicians, government officials and thousands of citizens who believed that their presence on u.s. soil would contaminate american society. as i said, i want to talk some about the controversy. in the summer of 1948, the chicago symphony, one of the best orchestras in the country at that time and still, invited him to become its conductor for the 1949/50 season. the belief that his activities
were inseparable would generate an impassioned response. they negotiated for quite some time to get the particulars of the deal right. and they did eventually, and fo fo fortvagler was appointed. i'd like you to hear some of these voices. a mrs. pearlman who represented 1250 member families of a local chicago synagogue noted that even if he was not thought to have been a collaborator, quote, he had prostituted his art to the brutal nazi while other more principled artists fled germany or refused to serve their nazi masters.
a rabbi from the chicago branch of the american jewish congress spoke out against the appointment. with respect to his contention that he had helped save jews, berman said that he had repeatedly heard war criminals who were on trial make this very claim. and he said but saving a small number of jews didn't excuse him from official active participation in a regime which murdered 6 million jews and millions of nonjews. berman said though he could have done otherwise, he allowed the nazi murderers to use him as their symbol of responsibility and culture. but there were other more anonymous people who weighed in. a poignant letter written from new york to the chicago symphony
by a man from the bronx, he said i'm an american citizen. a veteran who had served in the army for three years. i want to protest against allowing this nazi follower of hitler to conduct in the united states. he was an ex-soldier. he claimed that figures like this had allowed hitler to kill millions including american soldiers. musical luminaries weighed in also. arthur rubenstein was scathing about this appointment. and he said his decision to stop performing in chicago was made out of respect for the thousands of americans who had died fighting naziism. and given that his international standing, he could have left germany. rubenstein said that he refused to work with anyone who had
collaborated with hitler. and like horowitz, rubenstein pilloried him for remaining in germany. as far as the claim that he protected jews from the nazi regime, rubinstein said this is unconfirmed. the officials of the chicago symphony began to question the wisdom of this decision. maybe it wasn't such a good idea. they communicated this. and he pushed back. he pointed out that he had been cleared by courts in berlin and vienna, and he said i even have a letter exonerating me issued by u.s. military government. and one of his most revealing observations he contended some artists refuse to collaborate with me today only because i fought hitler in his own country instead of fighting him from abroad. now, beyond the extraordinary
claim that he had, quote, fought hitler from inside germany, he said that he had saved the lives of several jewish musicians and it is worth pointing out that there were some in the united states who spoke up on his behalf. again, these were people who embraced the ideas of musical universalism. the most well-known was an american born jewish violinist. he said that of all german musicians, the conductor had put up the most resistance to the nazis. he had never joined the party which was true. and he had done his best to protect jewish musicians in the berlin philharmonic. and there were others who spoke similarly. january 14, 1949, a wartime iconic photo appeared in the chicago daily news.
he is seen bowing to the leadership in the front row. you can see the nazi hierarchy including hitler. five days later, the newspaper published a brief story stating that he had cabled the symphony board to say that he was withdrawing, he would not be coming to chicago. clearly the toxicity of the german ideology continued to distress many. who could not sever the connection between art and politics. though nazi germany had disappeared in the spring of 1945, the malevolent character of naziism had impressed itself upon the american mind. the war's end didn't many that its effect had simply evaporated. one self described jewish subscriber wrote to the chicago daily news in january 1949 and he was assessing the views of
those who supported bringing him to chicago, assessing specifically those who said that they believed in the, quote, sanctity of art. he offered a chilling statement. a knife wielding artist will cut just as surely as that wielded by a butcher this letter writer wrote. it is true that he was acquitted of nazi activities after the war by an allied tribunal that investigated the actions of leading figures in germany. regarding that verdict, it is worth highlighting that there is a great deal of commentary on this. one of the more astute writers was a "new york times" journalist, delbert clark. and he wrote extensively about this. i discuss it in the book.
he rebuked him for his behavior. he said nazi activity was punishable under the tribunal's rules. but lacking a moral sense was no crime. now, my perspective on this for what it's worth is that whatever he hoped to accomplish by remaining in hitler's germany, and he had certain things that he imagined that he was accomplishing, he certainly in my view anyway had allowed a depraved regime to use his gifts in an attempt to achieve legitimacy in the world. id think a convincing case can be made that he was complicit in the german government's plans to burnish its image. a position he could have avoid had he left the country at various points, particularly in the 1930s. many people rejected the idea that an artist could remain
outside politics, especially when working under a regime that recognized no boundary whatsoever between art and politics. as i noted earlier, "dangerous melodies" details in -- i had a lengthy discussion of these post war debates which demonstrate that the taint of naziism was extraordinarily difficult to remove. for many, enduring memories made reconciliation impossible. but as i suggested, there were some who were prepared to separate an artist's gift from his or her relationship with naziism. these are obviously enormously difficult questions. perhaps we can talk about them afterwards. i'd like to turn now to america's post war obsession with communism which quickly
swept across the landscape. stalin died in 1953 and some leaders began to conceptualize a new approach which might create space for cultural initiatives. it is interesting to note that between 1953 and '55, the russians had increased the number of dance and theater companies that they were sending out across the countries. and this demonstrated moscow's effort to convince the world that the soviet union possessed a rich creative culture. and eisenhower was concerned quoting europeans had been taught that we are a race of materialists whose only diversions are golf, baseball, football and horse racing. cultural diplomacy game one way
to combat such perceptions. and orchestral tours became part of diplomacy. the first orchestra to go to the soviet union was the boston symphony in 1956, a fascinating story. it is in the book. what i'm going to focus on today is a new york philharmonic trip to the soviet union in 1959, a trip sponsored by the u.s. government, a lengthy trip, it went across europe but wound up in the soviet union. the conductor was leonard bernstein. and for leonard bernstein, art and politics were intertwined. he was sure that classical music could strengthen the bonds among people across the world. he was convinced that superb
orchestra could have a salutary impact on those made insecure by the east/west competition. bernstein was a musical universalist par excellence. u.s. government officials thought differently though. they advocated a form of nationalism. they believe that had symphony orchestras could help the united states prevail in the east/west struggle. policy makers were convinced that concert could employ sonic ammunition directed against its adversaries. it was hoped that people would recognize that america could do more than make big budget hollywood movies or bloated automobiles for american suburbanites. as a result, symphony orchestras were across the world in the belief that violins and trumpets could help win the cold war.
every musician on the new york philharmonic tour to the soviet union received a brochure 28 pages long entitled so you are going to russia. which instructed american travelers how to prepare for the trip and once there how to behave. the pamphlet made clear that americans visiting the soviet union with were participates in a national mission. tourists were instructed to learn relevant facts and figures, not about the soviet union, but about the u.s. the average incomes, the size of american homes, the number of american telephones and televisions. they were also -- it was also suggested that they bring along a glossy magazine. why? to make soviet women envious. those who were well prepared would know that they had done
their best to spread, and i quote, the american message of goodwill. clearly at least to me the mission had less to do with spreading goodwill than with showcasing the superiority of the american way of life. on the night of september 11th, 1959, leonard bernstein would conduct the orchestra's farewell concert in moscow. earlier that day, he had led a program that would be shown on american television a few weeks later. and in that daytime performance before an audience, the philharmonic played the first movement that we heard an excerpt of before. they played the first movement of the 7th symphony. the first half of that lecture performance saw leonard
bernstein comparing american and russian music. he highlighted the similarities between russians and americans by demonstrating how their music had so much in common. russians and americans even laughed at the same kind of jokes he said, and he claimed that both countries had to continue to strengthen their relationship. there was no alternative, he believed. that was during the day on september 11th. that evening, the philharmonic played works by beethoven and the 5th symphony that night. and in attendance for that final concert were two giants of soviet culture. and the soviet government had recently reviled. in the days before the concert, a remarkable story had unfolded behind the scenes.
the disgraced pastrnak was living in seclusion after being awarded the nobel prize for literature. he had accepted the award, but then he was expelled from the soviet writers' union and soviet authorities had forced him to turn down the prize. he was living in sort of internal exile. bernstein wanted to meet him. he invited pastrnak to the september 11th concert. pastrnak accepted. pastrnak then invited mr. and mrs. bernstein to come to his place and they spoke about art and politics and music and all sorts of things. on the night of september 11th, that same evening, at the thrilling conclusion of the 5th
symphony, the composer embraced leonard bernstein. pastrnak went back stage and said to the conductor, you have taken us up to heaven. now we must return to earth. the philharmonic's visit to the soviet union was a dramatic moment in the history of cold war musical diplomacy. leonard bernstein had articulated with great passion his belief in classical music's power to reshape international relations. when the orchestra returned to the united states, they came down here to perform in washington for an audience of government officials and diplomats. bernstein gave a speech at the national press club. it reflected i think his extraordinary idealism. if military strength is a nation's right arm he said, culture is its left arm closer to the heart. you can always touch people with music. and then he linked this, linked this idea to the u.s. soviet
relationship. you can't argue with a g sharp, he said. khrushchev wouldn't know a b flat if he heard one. a few weeks later millions had the chance to enjoy the trip when orchestra's september 11 lecture performance was shown on cbs television as part of a ford motor company sponsored documentary. sit an extraordinary and interesting cold war document and the only place that you can see sit in the new york phil harmonic archive. it does capture a powerful cold war episode and i discuss it at length in the book. over many decades, classical music and those who performed, composed, listened to and wrote about it were drawn into and swept up by the whirlwind of america's global challenges. the music itself did not help
the country overcome those challenges. i'm not claiming that it did. what it did though is it offered americans a way to reflect upon the world. countless people over many decades fixed their ears and eyes on the activities of classical musicians, on the work of composers and on the labors of leading musical institutions like opera companies and great symphony orchestras. the music and work helped the nation grapple with the meaning of patriotism, of loyalty, of democracy, of freedom, of tyranny and of oppression. the world of classical music helped americans reflect upon questions of war and peace which were central to the larger matter of america's role on the international stage. as the cold war waned, as overseas threats especially
those emanating from usual -- from europe became less fearsome, classical music became less bound up in world affairs. as a result, the music's role in american political life largely disappeared. i would suggest that to the extent classical music remained meaningful, it still mattered of course to musicians and to devotees as it always had. but for the nation as a whole, classical music was not nearly as consequential as it had been. what "dangerous melodies" does is explore an era in which americans believed that the work of gifted artists and superb musical institutions was inseparable from developments unfolding across the world, a time when many were convinced that their very safety might hinge on the performance of a
piece of music. i spent a number of years researching and writing this book and i still find it remarkable to contemplate that millions of people once believed that what happened in a concert hall or opera house was inseparable from the destiny of the united states and the well-being of the american people. thank you very much. [ applause ] so we are going to do some questions now. i'm going to move out here and we're going to do this. and so anybody who would like to ask questions can do that. i'm supposed to repeat the question and then i'll do my best to answer them. yes, ma'am. >> a fascinating subject. i'm wondering what might have prompted you to write the book. >> well, that is -- what prompted me to write the book.
and you said it was a fascinating subject. i'll establish that too. well, there are i suppose two facets of my life, maybe more, but two that i'll divulge here today. i was a classical musician. i was involved in the world of classical music for a number of years. and that world and classical music as a subject has always been deeply meaningful to me. i then became a historian and particularly specifically a historian of sort of foreign relations, u.s. foreign relations and international affairs. and i did a couple of earlier books on civil rights history which i think were interesting and maybe vaguely important books. but i wanted to figure out a way to meld these two things that i am deeply interested in and i thought about a variety of ways to do that and i began doing the research and in time i began to see how this could come together. so there is in that sense a kind
of very much a personal dimension to this. thank you. >> do you think there is any greater degree or difference between the impact of classical music and other areas such as literature or film or paintings or things along that line, do you think classical music can be distinguished from those others in terms of its nationalistic impact? >> very interesting question. i thought you were going to say classical rather than jazz or something like that. which i'd be happy to answer. but it is interesting because you mentioned say painting. there is a very good book on post war contemporary art and the way that the u.s. government sought to use contemporary art
after world war ii to spread an american -- a positive american message. so i think that it is conceivable that -- the name of the book is" fallout shelters for the human spirit." so i think that it is possible that painting could serve that kind of purpose. but i think -- and i'm not an expert on the other things, in fact i'm an expert on this, i suppose, but not on the other art forms. but i think if we're thinking say about literature, it is a little bit more difficult to do because literature has to be translated in to another language. people have to -- they have to sort of absorb it in that language. music does whatever we think, what can be done with it, is you can just go and play it. and you can play it and people can sit there and they don't need to necessarily be trained in it, they don't need to be reading it, they can just experience it in the way that one does in a concert hall. what i would say to complicate this and perhaps distress all of you, i'm not sure that it was very effective.
i don't think that these concerts that happened after world war ii when symphony orchestras were sent around the world and i discuss it in the book, i don't think that the impact of those concerts was nearly what people hoped it would be. in fact i think that in the end the world wasn't changed all that much by these concerts. it is painful to admit that, we'd like to think that the concerts transformed the world. i don't think they did. i think that they can tell us a lot about the world when we study it, they can tell us how people thought about the world, how people thought about adversaries and allies. but in terms of the transformative impact of classical music say after world war ii i think the impact sad to say is limited. there are those in my profession who would disagree. that is my take. i discuss it at some length in the book. that is an interesting question. yes, sir. >> can you discuss the impact or
role of the other musical forms that were ambassadors? louie armstrong is a great example. >> a question about whether i discuss other art forms, other musical forms. no, because it is a long book to begin with. but that raises interesting questions. for example, louis armstrong was sent by the u.s. government into various places around the world along with other jazz artists during the cold war. and i think it is in its way -- that was a more effective way to try to transform people's attitudes. jazz music i think has a different impact on people or can than classical music. it is a more transgressive kind of art form. the u.s. sent louis armstrong over when the kind of music that people wanted to hear was more modern jazz and they were sending him over.
but i do think that that is extraordinarily interesting. there was a real hankering for american jazz and when the jazz artists were sent around the world, they did i think have an impact because it represented something distinctively american. when the u.s. was sending classical symphonies around the world, they were sending -- if you send a jazz group, that is showcasing something that is distinctively american and all sorts of compelling issues dealing with race. there were a lot of african-american musicians. and so that is another worthy subject for studying. it has been written about. i do not talk about it in this book which is just about classical music. but it is darn interesting. sir. >> in 1990, the national symphony orchestra went to
moscow, first time since his exile. and it was an event. there were two concerts in moscow, two in leningrad and it ended as stars and stripes forever. i wonder if you have come across that. >> i didn't look at before -- i didn't look at that tour. the tours i looked at were tours sponsored by the u.s. government where the government paid the bill. and i'm not sure -- did it have the government -- >> it was the reagan/gorbachev era. and this was the peak, but many similar musical events during that late 1980s period. end of the cold war. and i think that that would be worthy of another chapter in your next book. >> my next book is on jazz
musicians, but that is a good suggestion. at the end of the book, i looked at the new york philharmonic's trip to north korea. i do look at that which i think was 2008 or 2007. and i also look at the trips to china by the philadelphia orchestra and the boston symphony. so i look at those. i'm sure that experience would be worth knowing more about, but it is not in the book. >> they reflect the times. they don't change foreign policy. >> but if you look at -- that is a good point. but the rhetoric of both government officials and musicians would lead one to think that they weren't trying to be transformative. the hope was that these were transform international politics.
>> diplomacy did not change u.s./china relations. >> i agree with you. >> thank you. >> yes. >> outside of the concert hall and radio broadcasts, classical music has also been used in hollywood movie scores. and particularly the music of wagner. and i'm wondering if there was any attempt to keep german music out of movies. >> that is a good question. i'll answer this way. i don't know about movies. but what i can say is this, and i'm glad to have the opportunity to address this, during world war ii in the united states, german music was played. it was welcomed. people enthused over it. there was not the same reaction
to german music in the united states during the second world war as had happened during the first world war. german music for example was -- wagner was performed for war bond drives during the second world war. so there was no proscription during the second world war. so wagner was quite popular in the united states during world war ii. and it is a striking departure from what had happened 20 years earlier. yes. >> so if history is destined to
repeat itself, i'm just curious, is this a bygone era of classical music and its role in the united states as well as foreign diplomacy, and if not, or if there is a way -- how to make this relevant today. >> classical music or my book? >> yes. and your subsequent chapter of how to -- i mean, i'm looking at the room here. and though i know that in classical music today it is not as homogenous as it once was. so how can classical music be used in a similar way culturally speaking if the military is the right -- full disclosure, i'm in the military. if the military is the right arm and music is the left arm, how
can we bring these together. >> i'm much better at looking at the past than predicting the future. generally historians are not very comfortable with the idea that history is sort of a prelude to the future. or the past is prelude to the future. i think that it is very -- again, i don't mean to depress everyone. i'd like to say that with a couple things we could slap a few things together and classical music would become deeply relevant again. i don't see it happening. maybe i'm naturally pessimistic. i think that there are things that have happened in the world of music generally and world of american culture that make it very hard to imagine that classical music can regain the sort of significance, prominence that it had in the time that i'm talking about. i simply -- i don't see it as happening. i say this -- my wife is a
violinist and string teacher, so i hear all the time about young people and classical music and string instruments. and i was involved in it a long time ago. certainly the world has changed very much from the period covered in that book and i don't see -- obviously anything is possible, but it is hard for me to imagine a pathway toward the renewed relevance of classical music. i don't really see it happening. i'm sorry to be so gloomy. that is why this is so interesting because it explained what it was like at a particular time and it seems as i said rather unfathomable. and i've tried to explain why it was that way. recapturing it, i'm not sure. yes. >> a perfect question after your gloomy question. what do you think about yo-yo ma's travels around the world? you don't think that that is transformative in bringing peace to the world? >> the transformative quality or
character -- i have the highest regard for yo-yo ma and these aspirations that he has. which are not dissimilar from many of what i was talking about. i've seen him give talks on this stuff and it is unbelievably compelling and moving and, you know, you want to believe that what he is doing is out there transforming the world. my response, and i do not mean to denigrate yo-yo ma, i hope he reads this book, he is a remarkable musician. is he the sort -- can any classical musician transform the world in the way that he would like to? i'm not convinced that it is possible. anything is responsible. but i'm not convinced that it is possible.
leonard bernstein was a remarkable communicator. an extraordinary musician, extraordinary in every sense of the wod. and he was a person, you know, who had a mission to transform the world through classical music. and he went on this trip in 1959 and there is another i think great episode in there when he takes the philharmonic to berlin in 1960. shortly thereafter, the berlin wall was going up, you know, in 1956, the boston symphony went to the soviet union. and a short time there after, the soviets invaded hungary. it is very hard to -- again, i'd like to stand here -- the musician or the old musician in me wants to think that music can do all these things. the historian in me kind of looks at the world and says i'm not sure i see it happening that way. i think that it is noble that people are motivated by these dreams. i think that they should keep trying to pursue them.
if you can i think this is where it is going, the world doesn't look all that peaceful to me today, but although probably more peaceful than 70 years ago. i think classical music's power is do this is somewhat limited. yes, sir. >> any efforts to take classical music to japan? >> yes. any similar efforts to take classical music to japan. there were -- certainly the u.s. government sent orchestras to asia. bernstein went to japan with the philharmonic in the early '60s i think it was. i don't discuss it in the book. but orchestras were sent all over the world and they were certainly sent to asia including japan. and they were received with enormous enthusiasm. so, yes, absolutely.
and they were sent -- you know, i didn't include it in there, i included it somewhere else, the fill harmonic had an interesting trip to latin america in 1958 which leonard bernstein led. so while focus today on this soviet trip, orchestras were being sent all over the world in that period. >> was there actual interaction between the musicians in both countries? >> yes. was there interaction between the musicians in both countries. on all of these trips, there is a great deal of -- and it is very moving to read these accounts, a great deal of interaction between and among the soviet musicians and american musicians. that happened on all of the trips. in the 1956 trip with the boston symphony, the musicians got together, the soviet musicians
loved the actual instruments that the americans had because they were better quality instruments and they longed for these sorts of instruments. so there was a lot of interaction among musicians. and even among american musicians and regular people, there were street corner conversations and things like that. and there have been historians, some who i disagreed with a little bit over the last few years, who claim that these interactions are what is really important and we can see that in those interactions, something positive is happening. and i would agree something positive is happening. i don't think that it is something transformative though. if musicians can talk to each other or if they can talk to people on a street corner, there is something positive that is going on. but i think that the extent to which that is changing the world is a rather different kind of question. so, yes, there were
interactions. >> there are so many questions i'd like to ask, but i'll limit to one. i wonder to what extent american appreciation or relative diminutive of music education is even conducted in high schools anymore. >> excellent question. i did not plant this man in the audience. at the end of the book -- whether the education, you know the sort of decreased interest in classical music somehow a consequence of education, or lack or changes in education. yes, i absolutely agree that it is. in the book, as the book winds down, i -- well, in the talk today i mentioned that the decoupling of classical music from these over seas development was a consequence, at least in part, of the waning of the cold war.
but you're absolutely right to suggest that if you look at american society today and want to understand, say, why classical music is much less relevant than it used to be it is not my contention that it is only about things like the cold war. and i mention in the book a few things. one is, you know, there are -- in the post-war, lots of other forms of vernacular music have emerged, rock, pop, all these kinds of things which have -- pulling poem away from it. i think music education, which is not what it used to be, you're not exposing small children, and middle-aged or middle school children or high school children to classical music as i was exposed to it when i was in school and i know this because i know people who teach in schools so they are not being exposed to this at a young age ask that will undoubtedly have consequences in our own time and finally i think the distraction of sort of television and digital
culture plays havoc with all sorts of things, not least of which classical music, when you're a child and exposed to it, it requires a certain focus, even initially when you're working on it, a solitariness, all those things, i think, have been devalued by digital culture. my phone is off at the moment, but you understand what i mean. it's just -- we're living in this world that is so fundamentally even from the one i grew up in and i think classical music has been adversely affected by all of these distractions that young people are now exposed to. >> to follow up on that, we know about the decline of the print press but journalists of the failing "new york times" will tell you that they reach a larger audience today. >> yes. >> thanks to online distribution. and i'm wondering if, for classical musicians, through spotify, which i don't subscribe to, and various other apps, and whatever, classical musicians, a
and classical muse, despite the dwindling gray haired attendance in symphony halls is not reaching a larger audience. >> that is an interesting question, whether classical muse sick reaching a larger or wider audience because of this digital technology and other sorts of things. it's a very interesting question. the first thing i would say, by way of a copout, is that, you know, the book really is a book about the history of the period, it's not about the present. but nevertheless, i do think -- and i don't know the statistics because i wasn't studying sort of the contemporary state of classical music, but there's a lot of classical music out there, lots of people are listening to it and it is a fact that i think most of the people are on the older side at those concerts. but certainly people are listening to classical music through various means and mechanisms. but i guess what i'm -- if i were to speak directly to that
point with respect to the book, there may be lots of people listening to it, you know, but it's not as consequential. i mean, i think that, you know, one -- the connection between great events, epical events, events that are central in the life of the country and classical music simply is not there anymore and while there -- you know, you may have, i don't know what the attendance rates are in concert halls across america, maybe they're quite high but i know that there are certainly many orchestras that are struggling financially, even great and famous ones. what interested me with this book was looking at its centrality in american life, not so much in terms of how many people are listening or in a concert lateral because one of the things, to me, that was interesting, is that there were -- there are lots of people scattered throughout this book who were not great classic music lovers yet the music drew them in because the music became involved in world wars and
fascism and the cold war. you had thousands of soldiers rioting outside an opera house in new york city in 1919. they probably weren't classical music lovers, they were energized and animated by the music, though, in a different sort of way. >> my question is outside your book. if you're trying to make a living, dollar and cents, selling your artistic talents. >> it's pretty hard to make a living as a classical musician these days, i think. there may be these other modalities to do it. i'm no longer an expert on it. it is an interesting thing to contemplate, certainly. >> last question. >> yes. >> i was just wondering if, in the course of the book, that you explored the investment from the u.s. government in all this -- these programs through -- from the first world war and through the cold war. the investment. >> if i explored the investment in the u.s. government? the u.s. government -- about the
investment of the u.s. government -- >> in dollars, having to do all these programs and send the orchestras, investment in the arts in general. >> well, it really starts after world war ii. it starts in the 1950s and i do document in the book the legislation that was passed and initially it was a few million dollars a year in the '50s. there are laws passed legislation having to do with cultural diplomacy 1954, 55, 56 and that's when the funding begins and the funding is really at its height during the cold war and it begins -- it begins to diminish, to peter out as the cold war becomes less central to american diplomacy, certainly with respect to classical music, and, in fact, some of the tours, even the ones in the late '60s and early '70s become joint ventures, become sort of private/public partnerships in terms of funding.
but in the '50s, which is really when this stuff starts, the u.s. government, you know, they go all in. i mean, they're able to send large numbers of symphony orchestras and other musical organizations, bless you, around the country, for a number of years until it begins to wane sort of in the mid to late '60s and on into the '70s. thank you. [ applause ]
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